U P T H E GARDEN PATH
When Heather O’Neill planted roses, she didn’t expect new friends to grow around her.
HOW STYLE SETTER OLIVIA PALERMO UPGRADES HER TRAVEL “I only fly German or Swiss airlines, never American—I prefer German efficiency! And I love Rimowa suitcases; they make my life so much easier. I have a whole system with a place for everything: a Smythson bag for my carry-on and one for all
my chargers. And Ziplocs—I can’t live without Ziploc bags.”
had only lived in big buildings before I moved into a ground-floor apartment in an old red-brick triplex with a front yard some years ago. I didn’t get to know any of my new neighbours. They never made eye contact, and I never spoke to any of them.
I was a single mother, and I never had free time on my hands. When spring came, I simply ignored the garden. It did its own thing. It was like an imaginative girl who sat with a journal and a black pen doodling weeds and wildflowers everywhere.
Then one day I received a letter from the city saying I would be fined if I didn’t clean up my garden: The weeds were too high and it was an eyesore. I was shocked. How had my daughter and I become like Big and Little Edie? How had we allowed our apartment to go the way of Grey Gardens?
I immediately set to work ripping up all the weeds. When I was done, the area was a sad small stretch of dirt. For the first time, I noticed how everyone else on the block had made humble efforts to liven their gardens up. In one, there were gnomes surrounded by purple pansies. In another, there was a little grotto with the Virgin Mary surrounded by a climbing bush with yellow flowers. My neighbours’ charming gardens invited passersby to stop and get to know a little something about their imagination and maybe say hello. I realized that my garden full of weeds sent the message that I was not the type of person with whom you could engage in conversation. My yard was making me come across as downright anti-social.
I went to the market and got myself some rose bushes. Roses were the flowers I was most familiar with; they bordered the pages of old fairy-tale books I read when I was a little girl. I planted far too many bushes for the space, and they went wild. One of them attacked the postman. They would reach down and try to grab the keys out of the hands of people locking their bikes to the fence. I had to buy metal poles and twist-ties to corral them.
But even in their worst moments of being out of control and aggressive and badly behaved, the roses were still beautiful. And everybody could see that I was trying. A middle-aged man wearing a burgundy suit and a green tie paused and complimented the flowers. Another man stopped his electric wheelchair to look at the garden and nod at me. A woman started happily talking to me in Portuguese, pointing at the roses. A child grabbed the bars of the fence like a prisoner and stared at the statue of a rabbit I’d stuck in the centre of the garden. One morning the landlord showed up with some brightorange mulch, which he spread over the ground around the roots of the plants. “Shh,” I heard him saying to a neighbour. “Heather is going to be so happy when she wakes up.” I came home one afternoon to find the man next door watering my roses.
My world was suddenly filled with neighbours, not strangers. From then on, everyone started saying hello to me. We all live these absurd lives on this absurd planet—the least we can do is try to make it a little more pleasant for ourselves and, in turn, a friendlier place for those around us.